The politically outspoken Dixie Chicks released a new album this week, but the band's new music is absent from most country radio stations nationwide, including those in Tucson and Phoenix.
The once beloved country music trio has had little airplay since March 2003, when singer Natalie Maines spoke these words at a London concert: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
It was shortly before the U.S. military invaded Iraq, patriot fervor was at a high point, and the comment did not go over well with the band's audience. Fans protested, death threats were made and many radio stations took the Dixie Chicks, the only country group to ever have back-to-back records sell 10 million copies, off the air.
Three years later the political climate has shifted a bit — but hard feelings remain. At Tuesday's Academy of Country Music awards, host Reba McEntire brought the crowd to a roar by joking that "If the Dixie Chicks can sing with their foot in their mouths, surely I can host this sucker."
The band's new album, "Taking the Long Way," is also getting a chilly radio reception.
The album's first single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," makes it clear that the band is making no effort to win back fans by saying sorry — "It's too late to make it right/ I probably wouldn't if I could/ 'Cause I'm mad as hell/ Can't bring myself to do what it is you think I should."
If the band isn't ready to forgive and forget, neither are country radio stations.
Only 14 of the nation's 123 country music stations played the single this week, according to Mediabase-Music Info Systems, which keeps track of radio station play lists. Tucson's KIIM (99.5-FM) and Phoenix's KNIX (102.5-FM) have not played "Not Ready to Make Nice," Mediabase reports show.
"Our job is to program to the tastes of our listeners," KIIM program director Buzz Jackson said. "If the Dixie Chicks make a hit song and the majority of the audience wants to hear the song, then we'll definitely consider playing the song."
In Phoenix, KNIX program director Ray Massie said the decision not to play the song is based on listener feedback.
"We are receiving a lot of e-mail on both sides of the issue, people who want to hear them played and people who don't, and our goal is to do what our listeners tell us to do," Massie said. "We always keep our focus on the listeners, not any political statements from either side. What the listeners want, that's what the radio station reflects."
Two country radio stations in North Texas, which the Dixie Chicks call home, did test "Not Ready to Make Nice" on the air.
Music director Chris Huff of KSCS-FM and KTYS-FM in the Dallas-Fort Worth area instructed DJs not to introduce the song but to simply announce the name and artist when it was over.
Huff stood back and watched what happened. What he saw did not bode well for the Chicks.
Hacked-off e-mails filled the station's in-boxes, and listeners called the request line with anti-requests, demanding the song's removal.
"The negatives outweighed the positives," Huff said. "The passions run deep on either side, those who want to hear them and those who don't. But ultimately, we have to listen to the majority of our audience, and if the majority says don't play them, then we don't."
The song was pulled from the station's airwaves.
Because of decisions like Huff's, "Not Ready to Make Nice" peaked at No. 36 on Billboard's country singles chart, which reflects national airplay. But elsewhere in the industry, the trio seems to be doing well: "Taking the Long Way" tops the sales lists of both Amazon.com and iTunes.
In Tucson, the single is getting some play — on com- munity radio station KXCI (91.3-FM).
"We just got the new album and I haven't even finished listening to the whole thing, but the first five or six songs are so good I wanted to share them immediately," acting general manager Randy Peterson said Thursday, moments after the song aired.
While KXCI has an eclectic format, 10 percent to 15 percent of the music played is country. The station has Dixie Chicks CDs and material that dates back to the early '90s, well before the band had its mainstream hits, and Peterson said he has every intention to continue playing the band's old and new music.
"We don't make decisions about music based on politics — although when we hear another station is banning an album, our ears do perk up," he said.
Stay up-to-date on what's happening
Receive the latest in local entertainment news in your inbox weekly!